Updated Thursday morning
The director of the Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips, writes a regular column in The Specator. In his most recent column he criticizes the Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, and the man he appointed as the Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral, his brother Philip Jensen.
From The Spectator column
The fact that the Dean and the Archbishop of Sydney are brothers makes the situation for lovers of good music at Sydney’s Anglican Cathedral especially unfortunate. For the parishioners there is no escaping the hard-line and destructive opinions of these two, whose double-whammy reminds one of the accumulation of power by the Kaczynski twins in Poland. There is a difference, though: the Kaczynskis never made any pretence about being politicians who wanted to be elected to high office; whereas the Jensen brothers speak derogatively about how formalised religion, with buildings, hierarchies and ritual, runs counter to the spirit of the early Church, and then allow themselves to be appointed to just the kind of posts they think shouldn’t exist.
One wonders how they came to be appointed in the first place. Here is what the Dean, the Very Reverend Phillip Jensen (a title he doesn’t hesitate to use), has to say about large religious buildings of the kind he now runs: ‘There is no discussion in the Bible about buildings. So we must not make too much of them, they are not central to God’s purpose, not important, not the church of God, not a replacement for the Temple.’ And about Church music he opines: ‘Using the language and categories of worship in church is untenable…It is no accident that feelings of epiphany (transcendence) occur when certain human activities are undertaken, especially music’, and that they can induce these feelings ‘regardless of the content or the religious context. We need to help people to see that nice feelings are nice. But they don’t represent contact with God.’
Phillips was also interviewed by Stephen Crittenden on The Religion Report on ABC (Australian) Radio National. Here’s a portion of the transcript of that interview:
STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: Why are you choosing to enter the fray in this way, at this time?
PETER PHILLIPS: Well I represent the point of view I think that God is beautiful, and can be approached – best approached – by mortal men through beauty. Any sort of beauty; I mean it could be a beautiful building, or the incense that the Catholics have. But I represent music, and my experience is that good music takes people nearer to God than anything else, and quicker. It happens just like that, you feel him, right there.
Take the Allegri ‘Miserere’ for example.
STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: That many people will know.
PETER PHILLIPS: Which I hope they do. The moment that piece is sung, the first time I heard it which must now be 40 years ago in the original King’s recording, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and it wasn’t that it’s fantastic music exactly, it’s an atmosphere that’s created by those lines and those harmonies and the building that it’s sung in, that produces its effect.
And it wasn’t just like listening to a Beethoven symphony and admiring the sonata form or something, it was something quite other-worldly. Something of the numinous.
(Sound of Allegri ‘Miserere’ [full version])
STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: In your article in The Spectator you quote Phillip Jensen with a completely contrary point of view to the one you’ve just put. He says music like the Allegri ‘Miserere’ represents “the gaudy baubles of sacramentalism”, and “an alternative gospel that we must never get tired of opposing”.
PETER PHILLIPS: Yes, I mean the Ayatollah Khomeini once said that music was an evil which distracted people from more serious things and should be defeated at all costs. It seems to me very similar to that; that was an Islamic fundamentalism, but there’s very little difference.
Links to the full transcript and audio links of the interview here.
Thursday morning update
Peter Jensen complains “No opportunity was given to respond to these remarks before they aired.”
Before they aired? When the interview was re-aired on the program PM, presenter Michael Colvin said,
The Jensen brothers declined PM’s request for an interview about that story but the Anglican Dean of Sydney, Phillip Jensen, issued a statement saying that “the church’s mission is for all people, not just those who follow an elitist repertoire of church music”.